The Hollywood Bowl is a funky kind of place, where all music is created equal. It’s a cultural amusement park where they have anything from the LA Philharmonic, to Dolly Parton, to Flying Lotus. And there’s a museum there where you can learn all about it. It’s an awe inspiring venue where the iconic mountains of the Hollywood sign set the backdrop.
Sunday night, Kraftwerk (in 3D) headlined and Lyris string quartet opened with classical arrangements of none other than Kraftwerk songs. I’ve never heard a string quartet play out of 6 story high speakers to a nearly sold out crowd of about 17,000.
Around 8 p.m. , Kraftwerk (in 3D) started what was to be their two hour plus set of early synthesizer, vocoder, and drum machine sounds. That’s a lot of Kraftwerk, enough so that their repetitive beats blend together, and seem not to change tempo or color after a while.
Their 3D performance art set was like a mix of Blue Man Group and Tron (in 3D). They took on these bewildered personas in neon suits. Their 3D visuals accompanied their songs and narrated their content about computers, machines, atomic bombs, trains, cars, and the “Tour de France” of all things. Did I mention it was in 3D? And like anything in 3D, I am suspicious of whether or not it is to compensate for work that just lacks substance.
The downside of playing such a historical venue that tries to cater to everyone, is that it results to watered down programming. Popular electronic music today is energetic, dirty, and larger than life. Sitting down in a venue of 17,000 is not really the way to listen to it these days. It made it feel like the music was an exhibit of the past, and although Kraftwerk is credited as being the grandfather of so much of what electronic music is today, it is just like a grandfather to be stubborn and out of touch, albeit well respected.
But regardless of all that, their set had plenty of light moments. The crowd would cheer at the first seconds of a familiar song. “Autobahn” put a smile to my face which was accompanied by car animations like out of Sim City. And the use of cycling sounds of their song “Tour de France,” made me laugh just out of pure ridiculousness. Kraftwerk deserves the reputation that they are credited with. Their work has been sampled by Madonna, Jay-Z, and Coldplay to name a few. There is a little bit of their sound in almost all popular electronic music today. And I have no doubt that their music was groundbreaking at the time. Slowly, electronic music was seeping into popular culture then. Herbie Hancock was playing the shit out of the Moog, and the Beach Boys and Beatles were messing around with theremins and mellotrons in the late 60s early 70s. But technology was still slightly misunderstood, and Kraftwerk unabashedly force fed it to popular culture.
But now, only one of the original members remain, and there has not been a new release since 2003. 3D is no replacement for good music. So instead of attempting to put a new life to the old music, why not just make new music? I would have liked to hear them in a smaller venue, where I could hear the bass rattle through me, and force my body to move to the beat. But in the context of their 3D Hollywood Bowl show, it comes off too nostalgic of the past, and desperate to be relevant.
Written by: Barmey Ung